Fixing Youth Athletics

It’s been a long time since I’ve been on here. I apologize. 🙂

I hope the New Year has treated everyone well. After travels for the holidays, a coaching course, and a National Convention, I am back and relaxing.

During the travels, I got into several discussions with coaching friends about the problems facing youth athletics. While some may think there are no problems, there are. The discussions and debates happen all the time. It’s mainly between public and private schools. In soccer, it’s become between high schools, clubs, and now Development Academies (DAs). Is there a way to fix it? Is there a way that coaches at ALL levels could satisfied with the others? Is there a way to solve the “competitive balance” situation that publics and privates deal with? Is there a way for high school soccer to survive in the club and DA world?

I wrote earlier that there are problems within the OHSAA (soccer, in particular). The NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) isn’t fixing anything either. There have been proposals in Ohio and Georgia to split the state tournaments into public and private divisions. The USSF and Claudio Reyna are saying that the DAs are taking the 4,000ish DA players out of their high school soccer teams. A few years ago, Kentucky had a huge ordeal of AAU basketball teams trying to ban kids from playing for their high schools. It goes on and on with the problems in the academic-athletic realm.

How can it be fixed? I have a “solution.” It isn’t finalized, but it’s a start. There are kinks that can be ironed out, but I do think that things can be righted.

EDIT: It was brought to my attention that I inexplicably forgot to include an important aspect of youth sports. Why do youth sports (including high school) exist in the first place? This can be answer numerous ways. Probably the most prevalent answer is, “another form of education, teamwork, problem solving, to learn winning/losing, while also offering the opportunity to get and stay healthy through exercise.” But, and this is a huge but (haha), no one can rightly say that youth sports (especially high school) doesn’t revolve around winning. No way. Not with the emphasis that society and our culture has put on athletics. If there is a teaching job, where there may or may not be an available coaching job, open within a school district, who’s first in line? Either a teacher who can coach or a coach who can teach. There could be great teachers passed up just so the school can have someone who can coach. This is a debatable topic in and of itself.

To solve anything, we must first find the problem. To me, the problem lies in development and competition. For the longest time, high schools athletics were either the best way or the only way to compete. Kids grew up playing in youth leagues and once they got to high school, the “free education system” had the alternative education using extracurricular activities which included sports. Eventually, club sports became an alternative to high school sports. The top governing body of youth sports used to be AAU. Club sports are mostly viewed as only obtainable to the “elite” — either financially elite or athletically elite. Private schools have been included in the timeline because they offer “better” education and also are more “selective” with their athletes. Now, things have escalated into high school sports no longer being the MOST competitive or the BEST in development. Clubs offer the best to play with each other (that’s the opinion). Clubs offer the best coaches (that’s the opinion). This is the view, in my opinion.

For high schools to solve this development and competition dilemma, they must make some changes. High school sports are no longer the best way for athletes to develop the skills necessary to compete at higher levels, that’s a fact. When high school associations limit coaches’ contact with their team to only their competitive season (typically 2-4 months), then that leaves 8-10 months where many kids cannot develop their talents. There are MANY areas throughout the whole country where kids cannot get access to other coaches other than those who coach them at the high school level. Those kids are limited to bettering their talents. The high school associations need to either adapt or die. One option could be to open up the opportunities to work with your student-athletes in the offseason more (can still be limited; doesn’t have to be a mandatory, year-long commitment for the student-athletes). Another option is to quit complaining and just accept where you fall in the scheme of the athletic world. The last option could be to get out of high school athletics all together and focus on the education — which is why the “free education system” exists in the first place. Could there be other options? Possibly, but I believe they’ll fall into one of the three options I just mentioned.

My stance: get out of high school athletics altogether and focus on the education. Why? Because it’s the best option and the only one that will work in the long run. Now, the high school athletic associations could still exist how they are…only on the “club” level. How does this work? It works just like all the other high school club sports exist. It can be setup just like high school sports, but be focused on the development and competition within an educational system. Quit with the allegiances to the high schools, they are basically just for “readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic” anyway. Allow the clubs to exist on the district or community levels. Kids can go to school and then compete on their local team(s). It happens in the youth sports below the high school level, so why couldn’t it work at the high school aged level? Let’s paint a scenario:

  • There are three schools in a community: School A, School B, and School C. Let’s say that School A has graduating classes of 100, School B has graduating classes of 60, and School C has graduating classes of 50.
  • In our current setup, School A has soccer, School B has the interest but doesn’t offer the sport, and School C had it but dropped it because of numbers.
  • How is it “fair” and “educational” for the kids involved to not be afforded to play the sport because the schools don’t offer it?
  • If there are kids that want to play, why shouldn’t they be afforded that opportunity just because they live close to and attend a school that doesn’t offer the sport because certain people don’t want to bring the sport into the school?

That is what we tell our kids now. We want high school sports in our high schools. We want them to be “learning” throughout their whole educational experiences. But, what we are telling them is just because they live in a certain area, they cannot do something they want to do. That seems like a really fair setup to me.

Let’s paint another scenario:

  • In a rural area, there are several schools that have a rich basketball tradition.
  • Since times have changed, the area has now gotten extremely poor due to the loss of jobs.
  • School D has lost 20-30 kids per graduating class due to the job losses, they are now at 150 kids per class.
  • There is only one person in the community who the kids really enjoy playing basketball for…the high school coach.
  • The families are too poor to transport their kids 35-40 minutes away to the nearest AAU opportunities.
  • The kids are now left without someone to help develop their basketball skills EVEN THOUGH the kids want the work.

What do the kids do? Do they and the coach risk facing discipline and break some rules because they want to get better. They want to compete.

Both of these scenarios are real. School names haven’t been revealed. The right sports aren’t included.

Why shouldn’t this ordeal be fixed?

The number one problem: how to fund it while also giving kids the opportunity to compete? In high schools, most things are paid for by the taxpayers. I am definitely not an advocate for adding MORE taxes, especially for something like this (or maybe at all — no politics right now!). Could the tax system be restructure to allow for the tax money that has funded “free public education” athletics for so long to now? What’s the answer? I cannot say, honestly. It’d have to be thought about long and hard.

Some places have instituted a “bed tax” in order to fund certain things in communities. Hotels would have a little extra tax to those who stayed, that money would go fund things that supported that community. Some places probably add a little higher in the sales tax in order to do the same. I do believe that this setup would allow for MORE support from the community or communities that the athletics take place in. I think it’d open up the opportunity for more and better philanthropic endeavors. I think this setup would also make sure there is more accountability with the funds because money isn’t so freely given. No need for 3-4 high schools in the same district all have MANY top dollar facilities when they can share. Heck, the facilities don’t even need to be mentioned…the real estate is top dollar first.

How about a third scenario:

  • At School E, a student-athlete was a member of a certain athletic team, which was sanctioned by the high school athletic association.
  • School E did not offer another sport that the student-athlete wanted to play.
  • School F, which was across the county line offer that other sport.
  • In this state, the high school athletic association did not sanction the other sport — the sport is simply played at the club level.
  • The student-athlete played the other sport for School F’s team while also playing on School E’s sanctioned sport’s team.

But…what typically happens with these sports? They become sanctioned by the state, student-athletes are then relegated to only participating in the sports that the schools offer.

Needless to say, I prefer and support a change, 100%. Unfortunately, this change will probably never happen. Unfortunately, those of us in the athletic realm will have to listen to the complaining and bellyaching of how “unfair” things are. It would be real nice to see some changes. But, like certain establishments, athletic associations are like dinosaurs…no adapting, just dying a long, slow death.



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